Lilly Pulitzer's South Florida Legacy
BY KAITLIN CLARK
“Style isn’t just about what you wear,” Lilly Pulitzer once said, “it’s about how you live.” The colorful patterns of her eponymous label may have defined the quintessential preppy aesthetic for the country club set, but as her company continues to grow, it’s clear her life’s legacy runs far deeper than textiles and whimsy.
“This was a woman who loved the differences in everyone. She was so inclusive,” says Janie Schoenborn, vice president of creative communications for the company. “I think what the brand means to so, so many is just happiness and good times.”
With Pulitzer’s passing earlier this year, the label is taking a fresh look at her legacy with a redesign of the Spring 2014 line in her honor. “We pulled every fabulous vintage print, trim, and lace to pay homage to her and those dressmaker details she put into everything and show it in a new way,” Schoenborn says. “We will absolutely always be true to bright, happy prints that put a twinkle in your eye.”
Growth has been steady for the brand, which has opened an average of four stores a year for the past three years, with Pulitzer inspiring everything from the dressing rooms to the wall décor. “The future is really living up to this huge legacy she’s left us,” Schoenborn adds.
A scion of Standard Oil’s Bostwick family, Pulitzer mingled with New England’s upper crust, counting a young Jackie Kennedy as both a friend and classmate at prep school in Connecticut. After an elopement with Peter Pulitzer, heir to the Pulitzer publishing fortune, the new couple settled among the orange groves in Palm Beach. Ever the pragmatist, Pulitzer opened a small juice stand on the property, but became dismayed by the inevitable stains on her clothes. In an effort to camouflage the blemishes, she designed colorful clothing in citrus hues, and a brand was born.
“The colors definitely put a smile on your face,” Schoenborn says. “Another thing Lilly loved was the element of surprise in the prints. She loved hiding a ton of little tidbits.”
The “little tidbits” are created by the brand’s Key West-based studio, home to artists who turn out as many as 300 prints—all by hand. The company ultimately chooses 35 prints per season for its iconic shift dresses, bathing suits, and blouses.
“Our designers always put a bit of themselves into our prints,” Schoenborn explains. “I’d go into the print studio and all of a sudden there would be kiss designs on everything, and I’d say, ‘Lilly, what’s going on?’ And she’d reply, ‘Oh, one of the designers has a new boyfriend.’ There’s lots of devilishness going on behind the scenes, and Lilly loved that.”
As for the future of the brand Lilly Pulitzer created, nobody sai d it better than she did: “Life is a party. Dress like it.” Saks Fifth Avenue, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-1100
See our behind-the-scenes footage from the 'Hobbit' and former 'Lost' actress' shoot.